Body-switching in Bilibid? NBP hospital says different unit assigned to identify COVID dead

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 22 2020 12:55 PM | Updated as of Jul 22 2020 01:04 PM

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MANILA – A different Bureau of Corrections unit, and not the New Bilibid Prison Hospital, is assigned to identify inmates who allegedly died due to the novel coronavirus, the NBP Hospital director said Wednesday. 

"Sa health service, lahat ng movement ng inmate kailangang ma-identify sila. Pero 'yung way of identifying ‘di nakapatong sa health service. Nakapatong sa isa pang unit na nag-i-identify sa kanila at may sarili din silang protocol," said NBP Hospital Director Henry Fabro, referring to the Inmates Documents Processing Division (IDPD) of BuCor. 

Fabro said the NBP Hospital's job is to make sure sick inmates brought to their hospital are treated. 

The Department of Justice has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the COVID-19 situation in the country's prisons, following the reported deaths of 9 inmates in Bilibid, including drug convict Jaybee Sebastian. 

Sebastian was one of several high-profile inmates who accused Sen. Leila de Lima of having links to the illegal drug trade inside the national penitentiary. 

Besides Sebastian, several high-profile Chinese drug lords allegedly died from COVID-19 as early as April or May, but BuCor only confirmed the deaths earlier this week, after media began reporting on the incidents.

This has led to speculation that there could be "body-switching" in which dead inmates who are cremated due to COVID-19 are falsely identified so that high-profile inmates could go free. 

In the interview, Fabro said Bilibid officials have already presented death certificates and pictures of the deceased. “Yesterday ipinakita na namin mga death certificates at ilang larawan."

The BuCor has set up an isolation facility referred to as “Site Harry” where inmates positive for COVID-19 are brought. But once their symptoms worsen, they are immediately brought to a referral hospital. 

CREMATION ON MERE SUSPICION OF COVID-19

He said that based on guidelines set by the government’s response to COVID-19, a body has to be disposed of within 12 hours of death either by cremation or burial. 

“The mere suspicion that that patient has died from COVID would be enough for the health service to subject that particular patient to be cremated po or immediately buried,” he said. 

Fabro said NBP officials have talked to the Justice Secretary who said there should be a representative of the Department of Health at every stage of treatment of an inmate under suspicion of COVID-19 infection. 

"Nakausap namin si SOJ (Secretary of Justice). Isa sa mga payo niya sa amin from the time na mag-swabbing tayo, buhay po pasyente, pag nag-swabbing tayo kailangang may representative ng Department of Health,” he said.

They were also advised to get a third-party witness during the cremation process.